A couple of years ago we visited India with our daughters. For them it was the first time. For us it had been too many years. It’s funny how things that you took for granted acquire a sense of adventure when you do it with your children for the first time. When we were young it was common to buy snacks from the roadside vendors and eat it right there. One of my favourites was pani puri or gol gappa as it is called in some parts. This basically consists of crisp, hollow, deep-fried balls of dough that are filled with a spicy potato mixture. You get a few of these on a plate. Then you add spicy tamarind water and a chutney made with coriander, green chilies and mint. When you pop these in your mouth and bite down, there is the most delicious explosion of flavours. I have to say, that although I have enjoyed food from many cuisines, there is nothing quite like that initial burst of tartness, sweetness and spice that you experience when you eat pani puri. And it’s just not the same when you make it at home.
There’s something about standing in a crowd with your friends, waiting as the vendor fills your plate and hands it to you. In Mumbai we took our daughters to try it, thinking that they might find it strange, but they absolutely loved it. Of course, the “street vendor” we went to was actually an air-conditioned shop, although this particular one also had a man doling out the stuff from behind a cart on the lower level. And I must admit, they tasted better from the cart than they did when we ordered them and ate at our table. So, do our fond childhood memories actually enhance the taste of a favourite food when we eat it again after many years?
When I decided to write a book, I knew that the protagonist had to be a girl. She would be a strong, kick-ass sort of a girl. No standing on the sidelines and watching with big eyes as her man saved the world. No, she was going to save the world herself.I wanted to base my story on the mythology of India, because it is so rich and fascinating. And I knew that I wanted to write for young adults, because they are at an important juncture in their lives. Not that my book is going to impart any great pearls of wisdom. On the contrary, it is pure fantasy. But I happen to believe that when you allow yourself to indulge in fantasy, you can discover a lot about who you truly are and what will make you happy. Plus it’s just really cool to write about a girl who has the powers of a goddess and can kick a demon’s ass.
I have always been fascinated by the concept of reincarnation. The idea that you can be born over and over again is intriguing. Imagine being alive at different times in the history of our civilization. Would we have memories from all those lives buried deep in the recesses of our minds? Or would we start each new life with a clean slate, perhaps a chance for a do-over? And if we are not aware of it, would we do anything differently, or are we doomed to repeat our mistakes in one life after another? In my novel, Realm of the Goddess, reincarnation is a central theme. Here is a quote from the Prologue:
“Wherever evil rears its head, there I shall be reborn
to crush greed and corruption in its womb
I shall arise again and again.”
I like the idea of second chances, maybe even third and fourth ones. It gives us hope that we can ultimately overcome our failings, some of our wrongdoings and have another go at being better versions of ourselves.
Sometimes we allow fear to get the better of us. We give it permission to control us and veer us off our destined paths. As writers, I think we are particularly fearful of what others will think of us or our craft. We are afraid to expose our vulnerabilities and our deepest thoughts for all the world to see and perhaps reject. This New Year’s Eve, I sat alone in my favourite recliner nursing a nasty cold. I thought about how I would feel if someone told me that I could never write again. I felt awful even contemplating such a possibility. So at that moment I made my New Year’s resolution. I will cast aside my fears and uncertainties. I will not allow doubt to plague me. Instead I will plough ahead into the unknown and see what happens.
When I was little my Dad would buy me comic books that were all about Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Thus began my fascination with Hindu mythology. Combine that with Saturday mornings watching Spiderman cartoons sitting on the couch with my Dad after breakfast, and you’ve got yourself a perfect recipe for writing fantasy. After all, what better escape is there than imagining that you’re a drop-dead gorgeous goddess with superpowers ? It’s the stuff great fiction is made of.
On one of our mini trips within India we flew from Mumbai to Jaipur. Jaipur is a city with an abundance of palaces, all of which are designed to take your breath away. Our first stop was Hawa Mahal or Palace of the Winds. It was built in 1799 under order of a Rajput king and constructed with a multitude of elaborately designed windows. The purpose of all the windows was to allow the women of the palace to watch the proceedings of the court from the private balconies.This way they could watch without being seen by the public. As I looked up at the facade, the hustle and bustle of the streets faded away and instead I could picture the faces of the young girls and the royal wives looking out from their perch high above the city. I wondered what they felt and what they wished for. I wanted to know what kind of lives they led, if they had any control over their future or if they were destined to remain in the seclusion of life behind the veil, living in anonymity forever.
The idea of writing a novel about a reincarnated goddess came to me around the time my family was preparing for our first, long overdue trip to India. While I was doing research for our trip, I came across some great travel blogs and websites of fascinating places that we absolutely had to visit. For the next few days I would like to share with you the experiences we had and how they inspired my writing. I hope you enjoy our travel adventures.